Words by Mikkel Condé
Photos by Kramon
This year, all the races will only take place on the 18.2 km circuit around Ponferrada. Not even the elite men’s road race will have an opening transfer part before starting on the laps. The circuit itself includes two longer climbs. The first one comes after 4 km on the bike. The 5.2 km towards the top have an average gradient of 3.3 %. This climb isn’t very difficult, however, the following descent very much is. After crossing the bridge and passing through the tunnel, the riders start climbing again. The first part is very steep, then, it evens out a bit before the last kilometer kicks up with several parts of 10 %. From the top, there are only 4.8 km to go. The last 12 km of this circuit are the same as the last part of the elite men’s time trial.
On paper, Australia definitely has the strongest team for the elite men’s road race. Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews are two of the top favorites. Both are good on these kinds of climbs and very fast on the line. There is no doubt that many of the other teams will look to Australia in order to control the race. Being on home soil, naturally, Spain is another one of the top nations. They messed up in Florence and they are now eager to get it right. Both Purito Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde have a solid chance of making it onto the podium this time. However, if they want to win, they need to solo away on the last climb. Other strong candidates for the rainbow jersey this Sunday are Fabian Cancellara, John Degenkolb, Michal Kwiatkowski, Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. Not to forget last year’s winner Rui Costa who arrives in great condition, too.
For the elite women’s race, the top favorite once again is Marianne Vos. After winning the World Championships in the last two years, Vos is definitely the woman to beat on Saturday afternoon. Her team is not as strong as last year though. This means she might have to play her cards much earlier than she would like to. Former world champion Giorgia Bronzini and Emma Johansson are most likely the two biggest rivals to Marianne Vos. However, this race, like the men’s race, is very open. Elizabeth Armitstead, Rossella Ratto, Pauline Ferrand Prevot and Evelyn Stevens all have a good chance of making podium as well.
On Friday, we can expect a very interesting race in the men’s U23. On paper, the top favorite is Caleb Ewan if it comes down to a sprint. The young Australian is joining GreenEdge next year. So is Magnus Cort from Denmark who has had an outstanding season being one of the most winning riders in 2014. Both Ewan and Cort are extremely fast on the line. If the race gets hard on the climbs, Louis Meintjes will be one of the top favorites. The young South African finished 2nd last year. Meintjes may be a bit tired after a very tough Vuelta a España. Still, if he has something left in his legs for the final climb, few - if any - will be able to follow him. Friday is also when the junior women’s road race takes place. Here, Amalie Dideriksen will try to repeat last year’s winning performance. To help her, she can count on great support from Pernillle Mathiesen who won the silver medal in the time trial earlier this week. The very tricky and demanding course in Ponferrada means that all road races are very difficult to predict. One thing is certain, though, we are in for three days of great racing.